Surviving the California Coast on a Budget

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The title may sound dramatic for somewhere so pristine and beautiful, but you may feel you are purely surviving this section of your road trip, due to the strict limitations enforced on freedom campers. In most large cities and Southern California towns it is illegal to sleep in your car, California is a travel destination that is favourable all year while unaffordable rent leads to more homeless. The problem is exasperated by lack of budget campsites and crowded sites at weekends, some people may view $30 as inexpensive, but for most travelers with modest funds this will eat away your daily budget.

Towns by the coast along highway 101 have strict overnight parking regulations, when evening comes you will want to drive a little further inland. Use your acquired knowledge to suss out a suitable overnight parking area; perhaps you find a park with few residential homes around it -but parking regulations in the parking lot, if there are no restrictions on the road you are also unlikely to be infringing on someone’s property in this area. Consider that if it is a dead end there will likely be little traffic or people disturbing you overnight. Finding a decent night sleep in Southern California is a bit of guess work and a lot of luck; ‘Walmart’ and ‘CampingWorld’ alike will refuse you overnight parking in this part of the USA, in some cases you may be able to ask a manager permission, but check for signage and restrictions first. If you have a car rather than a huge RV it is far easier to be subtle and not be noticed by cops or annoyed locals.

In cities such as Los Angeles or San Francisco you may have to leave the area for the night, with car camping being illegal and the unsafe feeling in certain areas, it may be best to drive away for the night or pay for a campground. Weigh up the cost difference between paying for a campground or paying for gas and driving out of the city overnight. Another way to save those extra dollars is to try and share campground pitches with other travelers, most campgrounds allow for two cars in one space making it possible to share, it is also a great way to meet fellow travelers and share advice and information.

Hanging at the beach for the day gives you a perfect opportunity to use free benches and barbecues for cooking, as well as the chance to shower off the sand and sun lotion. There will always be fresh drinking water at beaches, so ensure all your water containers are filled before you head off.

Don’t be off put and avoid the California coast line on your Western USA road trip, Highway 101 and the surrounding coastline is too beautiful to miss. You can see why people love California life and never leave, you won’t want to either!

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Joshua Tree NP
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5 FREE Campgrounds in Western USA

Car camping for free becomes trickier the closer to the coast and large cities you get, but there is still an abundance of free campsites scattered across the Western states. Using them comes down to whether they fit in with your route and if they’re car accessible, be sure to download Allstays Camp and Tent to help you find them, in conjunction with Maps.me. Finding a free campground is such a reward, you can relax, cook dinner and ask fellow travelers for advice. These campgrounds were memorable for all the right reasons

 DSC_0818Lowry Bridge GPS 47.51332, -112.00801 Montana

Pit toilet, river, bench, grill, grizzly bear

The scenery is otherworldly as you drive through Montana, the straight roads cut through the rolling hills of the landscape. Lowry Bridge offers you a resting spot to sit back and appreciate the landscape in peace. There is bear scat around and there have been sightings of a grizzly around the site, Montana is one of the only lower states in which they thrive, you should be extra vigilant with packing away food and cool boxes.

 DSC_0228Mill Canyon Road GPS 38.71268, -109.73934  Utah

Pit toilet, dinosaur footprints

This is a dispersed campground so it feels more a barren area to park up overnight, it can make a good stop on the way to Arches National Park, or Monument Valley heading through Moab. Don’t drive too far along the track, it becomes sandy and you will struggle to escape with a two-wheel drive. You feel the solitude of the desert and can witness a beautiful sunset, before finishing your beer and settling in for the evening. Mill Canyon Road has the added surprise of preserved dinosaur tracks, so don’t leave without seeing these, they are a sight to behold.

Sawtooth Canyon GPS 34.670375, -116.98407 California

Pit toilet, grill, bench, dinosaur sculpture

This worked as a stop en route to Southern California, winds can arise in the area so pick a pitch that has some coverage if possible. Benches and grills are built to be sturdy in concrete, so the facilities feel a little less basic. There is a dinosaur sculpture-come-play area, which is an apt touch, considering the fossils and prints found in surrounding areas. Be sure to look up at the surrounding rocks at dusk, you may just spot some wildlife.

 DSC_0986Tuttle Creek GPS 36.564857, -118.12591 California

$5, Pit toilet, bench, grill, drinking water

Located in Lone Pine, California, right behind the 48 lower state’s tallest peak Mount Whitney and Death Valley to the East, it is an excellent gateway to some of the USA’s best National Parks. Admittedly, the site is not free (it’s $5 per night) but the price is a steal, the campground is surrounded by an extraordinary panorama. You can hike in the area or simply rest before heading elsewhere, whatever your purpose drive slowly through Lone Pine, viewing the saloons against the mountainous backdrop.

DSC_0326 (1)BLM Lands East Zion 37.249128, -112.778939 Utah

There are no facilities at this campground, it is dispersed and not wholly obvious that you are able to overnight park there in the first place. The lack of facilities is remedied by the excellent location close by to Zion National Park, heading from Bryce Canyon. Views across the vermilion sandstone landscape are dazzling at sunset. This site as found using Free Campsites another excellent resource for overnight camping, the website isn’t the most user friendly, but it is full of great information.